Things to know about Koh Phangan, Thailand, that can’t be looked up online (for budget travellers and everyone else interested!)
1. What to do in case of illness or accident
If you are ill or, knock on wood, got into a light motorbike accident here are a some recommendations on what to do:
a- If you feel you need to see a doctor, you can visit Dr. Worawut. He is a great chap and will not take an arm and a hand of you in order to get you better. He is the only public doctor in the island and you can find him at the Sri Thanu Public Hospital (8AM to 12PM – West side of the island) or visit him in his private clinic in Thong Sala (From 5PM - Worawut next to the Tesco store). At the time of writing (June 2013) the appointment in the hospital costs 500 Bath and in the private clinic 400 Bath.
b- Watch out for rip-off pharmacies! The cheapest ones are the small pharmacy behind the Thong Sala food market, on the road towards the north, or the pharmacy at the end of Chinese Road junction with Moo road(Weekend’s market road)
c- Stay out of the water! Keep your wounds clean and disinfected. Water in Thailand is warm all year round, that means bacteria also enjoys their time in paradise. If you have open wounds or scratches, stay out of the water. If you get wet, make sure you disinfect with Bentadine or similar products, maybe even apply local antibiotic (please consult your doctor).
d- We all love Kho Phangan’s free spirit; unfortunately we still suffer a significant amount of motorcycle fatal accidents, especially around the full moon party. Please make sure that you carry a copy of your identity card and an emergency phone number with you at all times! Getting to someone that can take control over a gnarly situation can make a big difference to your health.
In emergency dial the Ambulance number +66 (0)77429500
2. How to find a quality and affordable accommodation.
Most of the people who come to the island stay in the tiny bungalows or hotel rooms paying often double or more what they would pay if they rented a house. If you come to the island for at least 3-4 weeks you will be better off renting a house that often offers more space and is equipped with a kitchen. There are plenty of quality houses on the island available for rent to tourists. The best value for money ones can only be found upon arrival on the island. This is where we can help you as we know where to find those houses and can assist you in the booking process before your arrival for your peace of mind. It takes time to get to know the island and see where the hidden germs are located. It took us several months to spot the best ones out there! So if you don’t want to waste your holidays time to wonder around on your motorbike in search for a home please get in touch with us! The houses range from a simple wooden 1 room houses to 2 bedroom houses often with terraces or gardens attached to them. The best value for money ones are usually located inland in the jungle and some of them have a spectacular panoramic sea view. The former one can go quick off the market especially in the high season (Dec – April).
3. Quality, budget shopping
Fruits & Veg: While there are plenty of places to buy food on the island from street straws and markets and supermarkets the prices differ substantially. For example a price for a kilogram of mangos ranges from 40 – 80 Bath! Surprisingly at the time of writing the value for money fruits and veg are not to be looked for on the market but can be found at the Tesco Supermarket and the small street straws (but the prices at those can vary from one day to the other). For wine and some European treats we recommend the big A supermarket or the supermarket just opposite the big A, next to the 7/11 (it doesn’t have a sign)
Supermarkets: There is an ever-growing supply of supermarkets from Tesco Lotus in Thong Sala, to the Big A and the newly opened Big C on Moo Road (between Thong Sala and Baan Tai). The offering is limited by European standards but you will surely find almost anything to support your basic needs and treat yourself. The island is well supported by a selection of unbranded minimarts. Be aware that most of these guys buy their stuff from Tesco, make it up 100% and resell it to you. 7/11 is a Thailand institution and here you will find plenty of treats and basics. They are open until late and you can always count on them.
Pharmacies: I recommend buying in local pharmacies where the prices are usually twice or even 3 times cheaper than in the one on the main street of Thong Sala or Baan Tai. Also ask for the Thai equivalent of the medicine as they are often much cheaper than the western ones.
4. Eating Out and Bar’s
Eating out in Koh Phangan can be a bit of a hit and miss experience. While there are plenty of local and foreign establishments out there not many of them offer consistently good food. There is 4 off the beaten track restaurants that I highly recommend for the quality of food, consistency and service:
Kai’s Baan Tai (Jonny the Monkey): This is a must see place for every budget traveller and anyone who appreciate genuine, well cooked local food. Located in the heart of Baan Tai on the way to Haad Rin and just 50 meters before 7/11 supermarket. The restaurant has no English written name and can be distinguished often by the young crowd inside. We called it Jonnies because the owners own a monkey – Jonnie that give a special vibe to the place. Our absolute favorite dish there is the fried basil chicken, garlic tofu or any of the curries. The food is cooked by the mother’s family or one of her two daughters. One of the cheapest restaurants in KP but the food is excellent, honest and tasty.
Mama Poo’s (Cheap and Tasty): Located in Sritanu (west side of the island) next to the 7/11 supermarket. The place is run by a family and is very modest but the quality of their cooking is excellent. Aromatic curries, freshly made papaya salad and the unforgettable tofu dishes will overwhelm your senses!
Mr Pizza Wood oven: Located in the heart of Thong Sala on the back of the Tesco supermarket. Here you will find the best oven baked pizza on the island (and top 10 in the world for me)! The owner is very friendly and they also offer other foods at reasonable prices. The wood oven roasted fish is heavenly and one of my favorites!
The fishermen’s: Located in Baan Tai, very close to “The Jonnies” but on the sea-side of the street. Run by an Australian family this place serves good quality food at slightly higher price than the local establishments. The place has nice ambience, where you can enjoy variety of wines while enjoying the ocean view. Kitchen with cashew nuts is our best choice!
Bars, Snacks and Markets:
Rooftop Bar: On the way North West to Sirathanu, past Thong Sala on your right side, you have the Rooftop Bar. Located at the top of a mount is this small bar with breath-taking ocean view not to be missed! It opens late in the afternoon from about 6pm.
Handmade Ice-cream Shop: Another secret gem of the island, on the road that connects Chaloklum and Thong Sala, on the way north, on your right side you will find the “Hand-Made” Ice cream shop. Wonderful handmade Italian ice-cream worth the ride!
The Food Market & Other Street stalls: Despite the fact that the there is plenty of better places to try local street food, the Thong Sala market groups every possibilities in one single court. There are a couple of items worth trying, and once you loose your fears you will be able to find significantly better (and cheaper) BBQ stalls around the island. Try the chicken sticks, mango sticky rice, spring rolls, prawn cake and shakes!
Other eating out tips
Ask for food ‘on rice’ for extra savings: For those on tight budget or on a diet It is worth knowing that in all restaurants you can ask for the dish to be “on rise’ (cheaper as the price includes rise but slightly smaller portion).
Regulate the spiciness: If you can’t tolerate Thai heavy hand on the chilly, make sure to ask ‘No Spicy’ when making an order. If you are ready to be more adventurous you can slowly accommodate your palate by asking “1 chilli, 2 chillies, 3 chillies” according to your taste. It is a clear direction, better than the subjective ‘little spicy’ that can sometimes end up making you beg for water.
Keep it simple! Asking for a skinny decaf cappuccino macchiato al dente with caramel syrup can get you killed here! Keep it simple, respect and accept the culture and try the local delicatessens during your stay in the foreign land. (and simple freshly brewed coffee can be delicious too and surely more healthy!)
Sugar, Sugar and more sugar! Yes, Thai people like things sweet, and when I say sweet, I mean very sweet. Liquid sugar syrup is added to every drink and shakes you order. If you are trying to reduce your sugar intake make sure to order stuff with “No sugar”. In a way, same thing applies to salt…remember that soya sauce, fish sauce and salad sauce are saltier than the sea!
5. Nuances & Things to pay attention to
a) Diverse wildlife: mosquitoes, sea urchins, snakes and a rich wildlife
c) Debris & Glass in the beaches
e) Drinking and Drugs
6. Activities Recommended sightseeing
Kiteboarding & SUP
Chaloklum to Thong Sala Coast Ride
Hike to the highest tip of the mount